Pecan Do

My palate is similar to a squirrel's—but not my work ethic

I thought the first one was a piece of gravel—though it was hitting the top of my tiny Toyota. Ping! The dog, all 12 pounds of her, was more concerned, back legs on the arm rest, front paws on the back seat window ledge, growling.

Ping, ping. Two more, coming from the sky. I follow Pookah's Jack Russell/chihuahua gaze across my driveway. Nothing.

Kerthunk. Ping? I step out of the car, straighten up—a missile strikes my right temple. Thwack. I bend to pick it up, another hits me in the back of the neck. Ow!

Oh, they're pecans. But they're not falling. They've been gnawed clear through, into sharp-edged pieces with pine-pungent green shells, about the size of good shooter marbles.

And up, up, the 40-foot tree next to the driveway, they're being thrown—aimed at me?—by a family of gray squirrels.

These squirrels have long been a source of amusement, particularly the one that retrieved a whole hoagie roll from the bird feeder and carted it to his nest, looking like he was smoking My Size Stogie.

But even if they weren't intentionally bombing me (like those squirrels in the comic strip Mutts), the direct hit to my eyebrow is becoming a little bruise. And I'm starting to feel territorial. I own the house; aren't these pecans mine? How dare those squirrels?

And they were eating the still-green, underdeveloped nut meats way above my reach, long before I had a fighting chance to transform them into people food. ("They will eventually fall when they're ripe if nothing disturbs them," Cleston Paris of the Tennessee Agricultural Production Association tells me.)

A cheese round from the The Nashville Cookbook, for example. Each tiny, sharp cheesy confection is topped with a pecan half, toasty, an absolutely wonderful high-falutin' Southern appetizer that I'd made, okay, two times.

See, I have the recipe, and always intend to serve it at a fine happy hour, where we're sipping Riesling or something, maybe before heading out for a symphony concert. That's what I'm thinking when I buy the ingredients, but the pecans—well, here's the thing about pecans.

They're kind of expensive nowadays, probably since they've gotten the OK from the fat watchdogs and all that. And I wait to buy them from the Sutherland Avenue Market, where they're less expensive and from Georgia, well within our food shed.

But what happens? You know what happens. First we'll open the bag to make sure they're "new crop" and still sweetish and bendy like good pecans should be. Then I keep them in the glove box in case my vegetarian daughter needs a high-protein snack on the way home from school. Within a few days, I've eaten them. All of them. Or another family member has, or we've collaborated. I bought six bags when my friend's church sold them for a fundraiser, which was one of the two times in the past 10 years that the cheese rounds had pecan tops as the Nashville Area Home Economics Association of 1976 intended.

If you think about it, I'm only "pre-harvesting" the pecan crop, just like my cute funny squirrel friends. But I would never, ever use the cellophane wrappers to inflict injury on the unsuspecting.

Cheese Rounds

1/2 cup sharp cheddar cheese, shredded

1/2 pound butter

2 cups flour

1/2 tsp. red pepper

1 egg white, beaten slightly pecan halves

With mixer, blend cheese and butter. Sift flour and pepper. Gradually work into creamed mixture with spoon. Chill dough. Roll out 1/2-inch thick. Cut in 1-inch rounds. Brush with egg white, top with pecan half. Bake on ungreased baking sheet in hot oven (425 degrees) 10-15 minutes. Makes 8 dozen.

From The Nashville Cookbook (1976)